He left quietly – perhaps too quietly considering who he was and what he had accomplished. He also left graciously, leaving behind an army of anglers who benefited from his example and his expertise.
When Denny Brauer decided to retire from the pro ranks earlier this year, a huge chunk of fishing history went with him, a remarkable legacy established over a span that stretched from 1980 to the present time. Seventeen tournament victories, 10 runner-up finishes, 89 top 10s; membership in the Bass Fishing and Freshwater Fishing Halls of Fame. He was the first fisherman to become a millionaire by flipping and pitching jigs and soft-plastics into flooded trees and under docks.
Given all the successes he enjoyed during the 32 years he strode the national stage, 1998 has to stand out as the very best year of his career. That year:
• Brauer, who was US BASS Angler of the Year in 1985 and B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year in 1987, won the FLW Angler of the Year title
• He won the Bassmaster Classic
• In October, Brauer made the first of two appearances on the David Letterman Show in New York
• As the FLW Angler of the Year, he became the first bass pro whose likeness appeared on a Wheaties breakfast cereal box. In fact, though other special-edition cereal boxes have showcased pros since, Brauer is still the only one to have been featured on all Wheaties boxes that graced store shelves nationwide.
Fittingly, after he announced his retirement from the seasonal tournament grind, Brauer rode off into a Western sunset. He and his wife, Shirley, sold their home in Camdenton, Mo., and moved to Lake Amistad near Del Rio, Texas where Brauer hopes to spend most of his retirement bass fishing and deer hunting – his two favorite pastimes.
Though the Brauers lived on their Missouri farm for more than 20 years, their first big move came when they left friends and families behind in Nebraska and resettled in Missouri so Denny could be closer to the tournament heartland.
“Winning two Federation [TBF] Nebraska state championships gave me all the encouragement I needed to decide I was going to be a professional bass fisherman,” says Brauer. “I fished all the local, regional and Federation tournaments I could get in, and then fished my first national tournament in 1980 at Lake of the Ozarks. I finished 20th in it, collected a whopping $1,000 and felt like a millionaire.”
Brauer bought his first Ranger in 1976, long before he won his spurs as a national competitor, but Ranger and Evinrude eventually became his first two major sponsors. That partnership endured through Brauer’s career, and Strike King and Ardent Reels also became major backers. Along the way, Brauer hosted a television show, conducted fishing seminars through various venues, and partnered with his son, Chad, on other television projects. Father of three children, Chad took a sabbatical from tournament fishing a couple of years ago and is now teaching and coaching freshman basketball in a Missouri high school. Chad might return to his tournament fishing career one of these days, but his dad doesn’t plan to.
“I’ll continue to do some product-testing and make some appearances for my sponsors, work with the media and fish some close tournaments once in a while,” says Bauer, a Nebraska native who started out as a bricklayer. “But as far as the steady tournament routine, I’m done.
“It wasn’t really one single thing that made me retire. I’m going to be 64 in February and I’ve had five back operations and knee replacement surgery. So the physical demands entered in to it. Shirley and I love Lake Amistad and Del Rio. We wanted to live where it’s not cold in the winter. But Del Rio isn’t exactly centrally located and I didn’t look forward to pulling a boat and trailer up and down the highway going to and from tournaments all over the country. From my point of view, the decision was a no-brainer.”
Brauer fished an EverStart on Lake Amistad last February (he finished 12th) and is signed up to fish the four Texas EverStarts scheduled in 2013 at Amistad, Toledo Bend, Lake Texoma and Sam Rayburn. Win the divisional title there, and he could wind up in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup. That wouldn’t be an unwelcome development for the fishing fans who hated to see him go. And it would be a typical outcome for a man who always set his sights high and focused on his craft.
“I really don’t have any goals right now except to have a good time and fish with some friends,” notes Brauer. “But if I enter a tournament, I’m going to fish as hard as I can. If I wind up getting in the Forrest Wood Cup, that would be pretty cool.”